This movie is weird, period. It's got an Eraserhead vibe (probably from the black/white), and I pick up Un Chien Andalou, probably from having no idea what's coming next. The dark frame corners of the B/W stock also evoke the early parts of The Wizard of Oz, conjuring dread and foreboding. Other than that, leave your film references behind, and set your mind for new experience.
You've got to watch this film at least twice, ideally a couple weeks apart, before you decide that it's the worst film you've ever seen (a typical first reaction). Now, the weirdest movie you've ever seen--yeah, that's a spot-on description-but it's not the worst, by far. Save that crucial tag for Madonna's desecration of Swept Away, John Wayne in The Conqueror,Caddyshack 2.
I saw this B/W classic for the first time in a 1984 university film class. The prof warned us that it was racist, misogynistic, anti-Semitic, violent, vulgar and scatological (her words). And she was and remains exactly right. I sat through the 73-odd minutes of this thing (shown on film, no less), and when it was over I wasn't quite sure what I'd seen. I remember a strange and heavy feeling of dread and confusion that hung with me for a few days, like I'd seen something deeply disturbing but couldn't yet make sense of it. But I'd also laughed, hard, at a number of the scenes in the film.
It wasn't until a good ten years later I got my hands on a bootleg VHS copy, and I bought my own copy (signed!) from the Richard Elfman web site two years ago. It was only on second and subsequent viewings that I figured out exactly what the story was, and then really started to see the subtlety of the film, to appreciate and enjoy it more.
It opens in the kitchen at breakfast, with the family in intentionally awful stage makeup, sitting in mismatched chairs on a set with ultra low-budge hand-painted elementary school play backdrops. The psychotic mom gets knocked cold by dad when she talks too much. Then they have to tie up Grandpa before the kids go to school. And that's in the first couple of minutes.
Then school, where the scenes are pure nightmare, just chaos, with the grotesque images of the teacher and students, hideous caricatures of kids that I knew, and you'll recognize as well. Then in the middle of this highly disorienting scene comes the "Alphabet Song/Swinging the Alphabet," with the "F" and "G" verses corrupted thoroughly and hilariously.
Then we descend to the underworld and by way of introduction to the Sixth Dimension, watch two guys in jock straps sing a goofy song in a boxing ring, followed by a frog-headed guy doing some soft-shoe, and a seriously creepy version of "Bim Bam Boom."
The crass racial and ethnic stereotypes flit in and out, amateurish, really, in their insertion, and having little relation to the movie itself. Right at the beginning there's a black-face guy, described as local pimp Huckleberry P. Jones, with his bad suit and boxing gloves, no less. The Hercules patriarch has a horribly dubbed Yiddish accent, and we even run across Jewish money lenders down in the Sixth Dimension. I don't really get their placement or function in the film, other than visual distraction, or misfiring attempts at comedy.
And some violence. A guy gets shot at school, although it's pantomime-corny. There is some serious fisticuffs, but it's also hammy. A knife goes right through a thigh, but it's a cheezy effect. But when Grandpa Hercules fights the gorilla he ends up literally bashing its head into ground meat, and that's a pretty disturbing close-up, even in B/W. The queen gets shot, somewhat graphically, with a little bit of blood. The two queens end up at the bottom of the pit, their bodies run through with steel blades. And Squeezit loses his head, although he doesn't really die, and the head even sprouts wings to flit around as a cheezy Sixth Dimension mascot.
And some nudity. The excruciatingly nubile Princess wears nothing but tight high-rise briefs, pumps, and gloves for the entire film. There's a wacky kind of topless cattle drive of young ladies, comical and erotic in its own strange way. There's a lot of comically strange/strangely comical frottage going on, mostly Flash and Gramps grabbing various Sixth Dimension denizens. Nothing graphic at all, but the MPAA would call it sexual content.
And fun with trivia: 1) Uber-nerds will recognize the Forbidden Zone theme as that from the short-lived Dilbert TV show from a few years back; 2) Music nerds also will recognize an original recording of "Pico and Sepulveda," which was for many decades the backing/theme song of the Doctor Demento radio show (The Very Best of Dr. Demento).
Lastly, get that soundtrack (Forbidden Zone). If you like a good mix of music, you'll love the CD. If you're expecting raw Oingo Boingo, you'll be disappointed. Sure, they're there, but not in the kind of depth and orchestration you're probably looking for. There's a couple old-timey tunes ("Bim Bam Boom," "Some of These Days"), lots of Danny Elfman's original score, and the sorrowfully too-short "Squeezit The Moocher." For whatever sad reason, "Pico and Sepulveda" is not included in this release.
Bottom line: This is just one of those cult films you have to be able to say you've seen. If you're looking for slick production and deep, deep artistic symbolism and staging, you'll be hugely disappointed. You may not like it at first, it being more confusing than anything, but if you've got an open mind and tend toward black humor, and if you watch it more than once, you'll enjoy it. If you're looking for something seriously off the wall, a film like none other you've ever seen, then this is the one you've been waiting for.
on July 12, 2004
Once upon a time, way back in the 1970?s, there was a magical land called Southern California. It was in this place that two brothers, Richard and Danny Elfman, devised an avant-garde musical comedy troupe, called The Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo. In 1980, they decided to form a loose story based around some of their performance pieces and make a movie. That movie is the legendary Forbidden Zone. Since my fourteen-year old vhs tape of this movie is rotting on the shelf as I write this, I couldn?t be happier to see its release on dvd.
Okay, the film is a certified nut case of a movie, filmed over the course of maybe a week in and around the LA area. It?s in black and white, not because of any artistic vision ? it was just cheaper that way. But it works ? the film is a (tribute, send up?) of 1930?s era musicals, with standout music by Josephine Baker and Cab Calloway and centers around the Hercules family and the strange portal to the 6th Dimension that exists in their basement. The world this takes place in is filled with strange imagery, amazing music, and more oddities than a sane person could hope to count. We have a human-size dancing frog, jockstrap-clad Kipper Kids, Herv? Villechaize as the king of the 6th Dimension, a chicken-boy who is able to communicate telepathically with his transvestite brother, Joe Spinell as a drunker sailor, classroom violence, a Jewish wrestler fighting a guy in an ape suit, and Danny Elfman playing Satan while singing ?Minnie the Moocher.? You get the idea; this is not a normal film. Although it borrows from the works of Olsen & Johnson (Hellzapoppin? & Crazy House), this is still a truly unique cinema experience.
The advance word from Richard Elfman is that this dvd will have a re-mastered print of the film, deleted scenes, interviews, and archival footage! For any fan of Danny Elfman, Oingo Boingo, or just incredibly strange films made by talented people, you simply can?t miss this one.
on February 26, 2005
Forbidden Zone could be the most eye-openingly bizarre film ever made, surpassing even Eraserhead. The fact that it is cheaply made and often inept is most definitely an asset - in a world this surreal conventional filmmaking techniques would seem out of place. In any case, there is no question that anyone interested in underground movies needs to purchase this. Its dismissal by critics and its unpopularity have both been unfair hamperings on its reputation. In actuality, its artistic vision is as singular and imaginative as Eraserhead's, or any cult classic for that matter. Rarely has cardboard been the vehicle for such a visionary production design.
There is so much to take note of - but I would single out the 'Bim bam boom' musical number with the mumbling boxers, the inexplicable antics in the classroom, and Danny Elfman's totally suave appearance as Satan towards the end as truly classic moments in the world of cult movies. They manage to be disturbingly surreal and amusingly silly and cartoonish at the same time. I want to extend my recommendation beyond the intellectuals and outsiders; even more conventionally-minded people may be taken in by Forbidden Zone's utter loopiness and triumphant imagination.
on November 14, 2015
Hi, Richard Elfman here! -- Apparently brain juice got on the boxes containing the Forbidden Zone DVD booklets and the zombies who work in the mail room ate them all. So anyone who purchased an MVD Forbidden Zone can receive a free booklet at: MVDENTERTAINMENT.COM/ALIENGATE. Booklet has original posters, Elfman family photos, an essay by yours truly plus other fun stuff. I’m very proud of this best-ever release and want everyone to get the killer booklet that goes with it! Have fun watching Forbidden Zone—but watch out for those zombies! —RICHARD ELFMAN
on July 18, 2004
This is an awesome find and collector's dream. The film, about a porthole to the Sixth Dimension and a most unusual family's discovery of it, is a bizarre low budget delight in b&w featuring original music by Oingo Boingo and vintage music by Cab Calloway and Miguelito Valdez. Another reviewer pretty much summed things up but I'd like to mention that if you're a fan of the late, great Susan Tyrrell, she's on fine display here. She plays the wicked Queen of the Sixth Dimension and sings a great song "Witch's Egg" which she also helped compose. Herve Villechaize is the King ("He's a little man but he carries a big stick"), Marie-Pascale Elfman, Viva, Toshiro Baloney and the Kipper Kids also star. This little gem is obviously not for everyone, but if you've never seen it it's worth a look. For fans of "Forbidden Zone" it's debut on DVD is a celebration. I've had the soundtrack on a Varese Sarabande CD for some time and my VHS tape is long gone. I'm truly looking forward to this release. Enjoy.
It's a good day when "Forbidden Zone" gets a DVD release! Better yet, this is a valuable addition to the Fantoma disc, and not really a substitution.
I don't normally purchase or even watch colorized versions of black and white films, but Richard Elfman seemed to make a compelling case that he intended "Forbidden Zone" to be released in color. I certainly do not begrudge the man for making a living, and he honors our pocketbooks by making the new release different enough to warrant a look.
In the color version, one notices details that aren't as readily apparent as in the original black and white version. The sets seem to be made of cardboard and butcher block paper - that is clear in the original version, but is blazingly obvious in the colorized version.
Colorization aside, how is this version different? This DVD is lacking the commentary of the original release, the documentary and the isolated score (this is bad.) On the plus side, the new DVD has a DTS 5.1 track, and a promo for a Japanese audience. However, the deal-maker is the pop-up trivia - that is truly interesting although somewhat redundant of the previous DVD director's commentary.
The colorization is quite good (who knew French's bathrobe was yellow), and adds to the surreal quality of the picture instead of being a distraction.
I don't normally like double DVD releases, but in this case I will make a strong exception. Recommended!
on July 20, 2008
This movie has been described as bizarre, racist, sexist and pornographic, and there is a reason for all of that - it is based on cartoons and movies from the early, pre-Hayes Act, 1930s when such features were commonplace. The most obvious connections, of course, are to the old music, lip-synced to performances by Cab Calloway, Josephine Baker, and the Gilt Edged Four (Yiddisher Charleston), to name a few. In the early Betty Boop cartoons, Max Fleischer experimented around with a form of cartoon lip- (and body-)syncing, in which cartoon characters were drawn over actual film footage of performers such as Cab Calloway, a process called "rotoscoping." You can see this in such Betty Boop cartoons as "Minnie the Moocher," "Old Man of the Mountain," and "Betty Boop's Bamboo Isle." Also, the Fleischer brothers were the first animators to concentrate on making accurate mouth movements to coordinate with speech in their cartoons. The Elfman Brothers do the same thing, with live action instead of rotoscoping. The Elfman brothers have generally adopted the mood and many of the visuals from the Betty Boop cartoon "Bimbo's Initiation," one of the most bizarre cartoons ever made. In particular, the scene where characters have to select one of three doors comes straight out of this cartoon. The peculiar frog, the strange people, the cruel queen, the hideous children, the gruesome teacher, all have their parallels in the old cartoons. The weird old grandfather, a horny, mumbling, bearded fellow, is another early Betty-Boop stand-by. See, for example, the cartoon "Mask-A-Raid." Betty Boop spends a great deal of her pre-Hayes cartoon time being pawed by males. Sometimes this attention is welcome and sometimes not. The Elfman Brothers carry this behavior to an amusing extreme, but it is just an exaggeration of what is already in these cartoons. In the Betty Boop cartoons, one gets to see a lot of glimpses and hints of the nude Betty (see, for reference, "Red Hot Mamma.") Again, this is exaggerated for humorous effect by the Elfman brothers. The racism, too, is a take-off of the over-the-top stereotyping typical of cartoons of the 1930s. See, for example, the Betty Boop cartoon, "I'll Be Glad When You're Dead," in which Louis Armstrong is animated as an African cannibal. As for the "anti-Semitism," that is a tip of the hat to the genre of Yiddish humor and to the Jewish Fleischer brothers from the Jewish Elfman brothers. Another homage by the Elfman Brothers can be found in the name of Squeezit. This comes from an old Cary Grant movie called "When You're In Love," in which there is a dog named Squeezit. In this movie, Grace Moore (an opera singer) sings "Minnie the Moocher." Hence, "Squeezit the Moocher." For the hell scene, again refer to "Red Hot Mamma," in which Betty Boop visits hell and meets Satan.
on November 28, 2004
Thank you, thank you, oh thank you Fantoma!
At last, a DVD release as outrageous and overflowing with content as the movie itself!
"Forbidden Zone" has everything you could want in a film: good music, good comedy, a total disregard for good taste and political correctness, sexy women, little men and on and on.
The documentary on this DVD is wonderfully informative and entertaining. The commentary is one of my very favorites with Richard Elfman and Matthew Bright keeping you laughing through the whole thing. Deleted scenes, Elfman's video for Oingo Boingo's "My Private Life" and other goodies. Most of all, the film looks GREAT.
French accents are hot; but you know that.
Now all we need is someone to release a CD compilation of Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo music.
Well maybe cult film doesn't quite cover it. This movie is so unique!
A few nights ago I was watching the Marx Bros. Cocoanuts followed by some Blackhawk items from the Slapstick Encyclopedia (Recommended!!) and the origins of much of this utterly wacked film were obvious. Forbidden Zone is adult, totally filthy at times, and very over-the-top but in many ways it's a loving tribute to a lot of old films, cartoons, Yiddish theater, Cab Calloway, and other charming things from the past. The character of Froggie is based on a 50s children's TV show character, for example.
It can be edgy and uncomfortable (not in a bad way!) but it's largely a heck of a lot of fun. The musical numbers--often characters lip-synching to great old tunes--are another memorable aspect to this film. The cast is fantastic. For a bottom-of-the-barrel budget movie the overall look and feel is spectacular and there are surprisingly few awkward moments.
I've seen a lot of underground movies, especially from this era, and I'd say, although many are good to great this is the only one that shows genuine genius. I often lose track of the amazing number of truly original and unforgettable moments in this film.
STERN WARNING! This film is not for pink-cheeked youngsters who are Politically Correct. Back in the 70s and 80s we crusty old anarcho-libertarian types found racial, cultural, and sexual stereotypes hysterically funny because they were so utterly stupid. This movie is full of them for exactly that reason. It's called "irony"--look it up in the dictionary if you haven't already burned your copy because it contains words you don't like. The younger generations can be pretty humorless and incapable of understanding what I'm writing about and that's exactly why many of you kittens remind us old-timers of the miserable, narrow-minded, hung-up, fascists we were fighting way back then. You act like our parents. So stay away from this movie! We fans (who are so danged happy to see this thing available again!) will get really annoyed if we find whiny critical reviews here by people who DON'T GET IT.
on August 29, 2005
Five years after 'The Rocky Horror Picture Show,' (1975) brothers Danny and Richard Elfman made this cult film, partly in order to record on screen the performance of Oingo Boingo (then called Mystic Knights of the Oingo-Boingo). The results became 'Forbidden Zone' this crazy, but strangely attrative no-budget musical.
The film is about the king and the queen of the World of the Sixth Dimention, where insanity and craziness rule. Susan Tyrrell is the jealous Queen Doris with a beehive hair; Hervé Villechaize ('Nick Nack' in 'The Man with a Golden Gun' beside Christopher Lee) is the King Fausto. There is a butler with a frog's head. There is a French girl named Frenchy (played by Marie-Pascale Elfman, then married to Richard Elfman) who unwisely strays into the underworld. And Danny Elfman himself appears as The Satan, who sings a spoof song of Cab Calloway. In other words, no one makes a film like this today.
To me, the most impressive part is its songs (largely based on old 30s-type numbers) plus Oingo Boingo's own numbers, and the animation in the vein of Max Fleischer cartoons. If you find the rest of the film too ugly for your taste, you will admit that these parts are curiously attractive, like the score of Danny Elfman who is to be more famous with his works in 'Batman.'
Some parts of the film might no longer appeal to us as they did in the 80s. The intentionally stereotyped characters (black people in the classroom, for example) are not surprising today, but within the context of the political correctness in the 80s, we can easily imagine that they were surprsing, and shocking, to some then. Interestingly, Matthew Bright (then credited as Toshiro Baloni) contributed to the zany screenplay, and Bright himself is to make films with different taste like 'Freeway' of which music is by Danny Elfman again.
Shot in black and white, and made with painted cardboards as backdrops, 'Forbidden Zone' has been a favorite choice for cult film fans. Looking back from now, the film's uneven quality cannot be denied, but for some of the deliciously odd moments, 'Forbidden Zone' attracted, and will attract many cult film fans forever.